CNIO researchers ready to welcome the 250 people who are coming to CNIO today to participate in European Researchers' Night. / A. Tabernero. /CNIO
Dozens of citizens of all ages come to the centre to become researchers for a day
During the event, held in person once again after two years online, the participants perform DNA extraction, look at tumour cells under a microscope, and visualise how the three-dimensional structure of proteins is decoded
“This event is a magnificent opportunity to connect directly with society, so that they know more about us and what we are working on,” says Marisol Soengas
The first group of “scientists for a day” have already carried out their experiment. Excited and curious, dozens of people have extracted DNA from a tomato, seen different types of cells using various microscopy techniques, and even observed the three-dimensional structure of proteins being investigated, using physical and computational techniques. They are the participants of the first of three groups coming to the National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) today to celebrate with scientists the Festival of Science that is being held on European Researchers’ Night. This is a very important scientific and educational event for the centre, which is taking part for the tenth year running.
Between 5pm and 11pm, some 250 people of (almost) all ages can learn about the type of science we do here at CNIO and its importance in the treatment of cancer. The coordinator of the Dean’s Office at CNIO, organiser of this activity, and head of the Melanoma Group, Marisol Soengas, explains: “For us at CNIO this is a magnificent opportunity to connect directly with society, to show people our most human side, what we are working on, and why.”
She tells us about her experience: “We have been celebrating European Researchers’ Night for 10 years now. One of the most rewarding things about this event is seeing participants’ faces light up (both children and grown-ups alike) when they enter CNIO, put on a lab coat, gloves, and become scientists for a day. I also love it when there is that close interaction, when they come up to you and ask questions. Seeing their excitement when they realise that underneath the lab coats are young researchers who were once curious children, and who have made it as far as a prominent centre like ours, it’s very rewarding,” says the researcher. What children like most about this event, Soengas says, is “messing around, picking up tubes, samples, solutions, and seeing that, if they want to, they could also be researchers in the future,” she adds .
For the first time this year have been taken on a live tour, via internal video conference, of the centre’s facilities that are not normally accessible to the public, such as the cell culture room and some of the laboratories.
“On this day, we reach out to society, see the image we project, see the ideas people have about us, and above all what they expect from us. This is a day when we come out of our little box, where we sometimes lose sight of our key focus, which is people, their health, their quality of life. And our sense of responsibility and gratitude for doing such a beautiful job every day is reborn. And a job that is so well regarded, and we can see that, it gives us a real boost” says the coordinator of the event, Ana Cuadrado, researcher with the Chromosome Dynamics Group.
“For me, it is certainly one of the best days of the year,” she continues. “It is a day when the impact scores of scientific journals are no longer the end goal, and instead it once again becomes curiosity, the common search for solutions to problems that are important because they matter to all of us; and to see the new generations, their enjoyment, their questions, their amazement. To see that science will be in such good hands in the generations to come.” Children, says Cuadrado , really enjoy touching and handling everything, putting on their lab coats, “and they have so many questions, and some of them are really good ones”, she says.
The goal of the activity is to nurture interest in science in general, to dispel the stereotypes associated with those who devote themselves to science and show what cancer research involves at CNIO.
At last year’s edition held in 2021, more than 300 people signed up to carry out this experiment virtually, from their homes, guided by a CNIO team.
European Researchers’ Night is a European Union initiative to publicise the importance of scientific knowledge, held simultaneously in 350 European cities. In Madrid, it is promoted by the Department for Science, Universities and Innovation and coordinated by the Fundación para el Conocimiento madri+d. The project is funded by the European Union under the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme – Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions –. At CNIO, the event is part of the Centre’s outreach strategy through the Dean’s Office, along with the CNIO Training Programme.